Found an interesting article by Richard Garner's entitled 'Morality: The Final Delusion?' on this forum. I thought a comment of such length should become a blog post, so here it is.
First off, when discussing a subject, we must define it. And defining 'morality' is not an easy task. That's why, I guess, arguing about its role in society becomes all the more difficult as we sometimes mean different things when referring to it.
Here is the morality definition I found.
So I will use the term in a sense of a certain code of conduct that is put forward by people of the society to govern certain aspects of their behavior.
Morality can be very different. As a psychologist, I've developed quite a flexible one. Because when you try to uncover the motives behind various human actions you realize we all have our reasons to be the way we are and to act the way we do. Drug addicts, lousy parents, even criminals. A psychologist can not help others if he starts judging them. So in most cases you learn to be an amoralist. Not anti-moralist, but putting moral values aside, putting client's needs first. What's right for one person can be bad for the other. What's right for this person today under these circumstances can be harmful tomorrow when new conditions arise.
Is it wrong if I cheat on my wife? Is it wrong if I leave my child? Is it acceptable to lie to my friend? All sorts of questions can be asked and psychologists don't give out universal answers to them. Because stereotypes don't make people happy. Only following their dreams, drives and impulses does. Being true to themselves is what makes them happy.
If I condemn or despise something, I do that because it either indirectly impacts me (e.g. I feel sympathy to the abused living being, so I want the abuse to stop so I can feel good again), or such impact is anticipated, or I think such a way is detrimental to the society as a whole and me as a part of it. When we say religion is dangerous - we simply evaluate it as being harmful to human society.
I'd divide morality into 'useful morality' and 'useless morality'.
Useful morality would be based on some practical benefit achieved (or harm prevented), and useless morality would be moralizing for morality's sake. An illustration of the useless morality would be judgements like 'man and woman should only have sex in a missionary pose', or 'humans should be/do this or that, otherwise we're no different from animals'. I mean, such statements do not point to any practical value to humanity in case of following or not following the proposed rule. Not everybody will find any use in feeling superior to animals. Useless morality is simply a cover for meddling in other peoples lives. But in the same time, no one likes to get raped (perversions aside), so we have agreed that rape is wrong. This is a useful morality that eventually has been made into law.
At some point we've agreed slavery was wrong. Was it a right decision? I think so.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Anything particularly wrong with that? It's a set of moral judgements that we've agreed upon.
To put it briefly, I don't support any moralists who like intervening in other peoples private lives in an attempt to impose their own values on others. A person has a right to live his or her life as he or she pleases until they start hurting somebody else. There's a good quote that conveys the message: My freedom should end when the freedom of the other person starts.
As simple as that.
You wanna be a pot-smoking slob - go ahead. You wanna be a sex pervert - your choice. But once you start dragging kids into your sexual games - we have a problem with you, because you overstep the boundaries of your personal freedom, causing harm to others.
Thus, I guess the basic code of conduct is needed for the society to function. Don't kill, don't steal, don't rape, don't torture - basic things of this nature. Other than that - be whatever the hell you please. Morality does not have to extend to traditions, dress codes and other things that take from creativity and spontaneity.
I've always been pro spontaneity, pro following one's desires, even the weird ones and those that some may consider immoral. I've always been re-examining and challenging generally accepted values. I think people would have been happier with moral pressure decreased. Although we've achieved great progress on this path, many imposed feelings of duty and obligation still make neurotics out of people. Lots of obsolete moral norms only contribute to double standards and hypocrisy.
Yet I'm still struggling to understand the point of calling for 'abolishing morality' completely. If the point is to admit that there are no universal, objective rights and obligations - OK! But that does not mean the society should not create a small, very schematic road map. Yes, it won't be perfect - and why should we expect it to be? We're not perfect, this world isn't perfect, our morality evolves with us. Judicial system is not perfect, but what's the alternative? We're just trying our best at creating a world that would meet everyone's needs.
Didn't want to seem like a spammer promoting own blog, so I never linked to this post. And copy-pasting it there would be bad from SEO point - duplicating my own content with my own hands!
Yeah, I'll lift the limit to some 5000 characters or so.
To make it short: the thing that I think is missing in your 'useful vs useless' characterization of morality is the dimension of time.
You're right. I guess I didn't think it was important to mention (also, it took me like 2 hours to come up with this post which is far too long than usual and I got tired of it).
Some traditions, when introduced, may have been useful, but later on they've lost their importance. Someone told me that the islamic ritual of washing ones arms, head, and feet before prayer was originally introduced to improve arabs' personal hygiene because at those times they were real slobs
On the other hand, I'd argue that values that are both lasting in the long run, and practical, are unlikely to depend on mere opinion or prejudice, and thus may deserve to be deemed 'objective' or 'universal'.
Well... I interpret the 'objective' or 'universal' as inherent, thus, something that should be observed in all human societies throughout all human history. If some values are only present starting from some point in time, I'd consider them as acquired. Means they have evolved as humanity did. But I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
Thanks for commenting on my blog.
P.S. I just joined the thinkatheist.com so I thought I better skip on anything that resembles self-promotion)) I own couple of resources myself and know how annoying it is when newbies start throwing in links to their websites with every post they make.))